After spending a few weeks in Wisconsin during January, I, too, felt I needed a calf jacket wherever I went. Maybe I was just being dramatic, but I felt much more comfortable the more layers I had on. Once I made my way back to a warmer climate, the winter coat, scarf, hat, and mittens were no longer needed. In fact, they made me feel worse. The same can be said for calves as temperatures begin to rise.
A calf’s thermal neutral zone ranges from 32° to 78°F. Any temperature below or above that can cause stress for the animal, making it harder for them to maintain body weight. It is also important to factor in wind chill, as a breeze can also affect a calf’s body temperature. Newborn calves in particular do not have enough body fat to maintain their own body temperature. Calf jackets can serve as protection from the winter elements and help with average daily gain. However, once things start to warm up, jackets may need to be shed.
- When using calf jackets, it is important to monitor how snug the jacket fits. A jacket that is too tight can cause irritation and create raw spots on the animal’s skin. Make sure that jackets are adjusted as the calf continues to grow.
- Wet jackets can also lead to problems. Moisture trapped beneath the jacket can cause skin irritation and health problems. Keeping jackets clean and dry is a good management practice.
- Jackets left on during warmer weather can cause animals to overheat. With the inconsistent weather that spring brings, the rise and fall of temperatures can lead to respiratory problems. Determine a temperature in which you feel calf jackets are no longer needed. On our farm, we like to take calf jackets off when temperatures consistently range from 35° to 40°F. Keep in mind that well bedded hutches can help keep calves warm if temperatures drop overnight.
Though it is still probably too early take off calf jackets in most parts of the country, it won’t be long before they become unnecessary. I needed lots of layers while living in Wisconsin, but after moving back to Oklahoma, a light sweatshirt will keep me comfortable. Keep these calf jacket tips in mind as the weather starts to warm up in your neck of the woods.
Taylor Leach grew up on her family’s dairy farm in Linwood, Kansas. Leach graduated with an associate’s degree from Kansas City Kansas Community College and now attends Oklahoma State University, majoring in animal science and agriculture communications. On campus, she is a member of the dairy club and also works on the university's dairy farm. Leach was the 2016 Hoard’s Dairyman summer editorial intern.